Tech talk needs to keep it realby Steve Thomson, Managing Director, UK, May 26, 2011
We know that consumers the world over – and we really do mean the whole world these days – love to talk about new technology and technology brands. Long gone are the days when tech talk was limited to enthusiasts waxing lyrical, plus nervous forays from more mainstream consumers making a big-ticket purchase.
Many would regard the launch of the Apple Mac as the turning point – but we must remember that much of the word of mouth was stimulated by that commercial and other intensive marketing activity. Now, it’s queues outside the stores, the world’s media are ready to spread the word for you, and of course ‘ordinary’ consumers are spreading it even further and faster.
For sure, the generation gap has not disappeared altogether – Keller Fay data shows that under 30’s are much more likely than over 50’s to talk to their friends about technology brands – but the gap is narrowing (over 50s talk as much about tech as they do traditional interests such as cars).
These days, it’s pretty easy to follow what consumers are saying about all this cool stuff, using the very same technology and ‘new’ (are they really new now?) ways of communicating; just sit back and monitor all the talk on social media, and there you have it.
Well, it’s tempting to believe that, but restricting measurement to online word of mouth does not tell anywhere near the full story, even in this category.
Take the US: in the tech and telecoms categories only about 10% of WOM is online. In the UK it’s a similar figure. In both countries the vast majority of talk about tech and telecoms is offline – face-to-face mainly but with a decent amount of chatter on the phone.
Even when we focus on teens, face-to-face WOM dominates – in the UK it accounts for 69% of teens’ conversations about tech brands. You may think your 16-year-old daughter spends all her life online, but the reality is face to face interactions are still dominant, given maybe 7 hours of school, travel to and from, hanging out at the mall and – let’s not forget this part – sitting around the living room with your own family. A quarter of US teens’ tech conversations are at school (& that’s taking holidays and weekends into account), and much of the in-home interaction is within the family (all those Dads asking their daughters how to buy an app, perhaps).
What are the implications for tech brands? Well for one, design and functionality are likely to remain important, because there’s no better way to recommend your latest bit of kit than to show the person sitting next to you. In some respects, tech brands are behaving like fashion labels – ipod ear buds show the world what you’re wearing. First impressions will count.
Secondly, we know that digital marketing can be very powerful in the tech space. But to have maximum impact, tech brands will still need to address the mass audience via traditional marketing channels – visibility (& cool creds) in the mall are just as important as in social media. Apple – which is never out of Keller Fay’s top 10 of most talked-about brands – hasn’t given up on traditional advertising and marketing.
And lastly, tech brands need to develop their understanding of what messages and tactics help spread the word in the offline world as well as online. Counting your Youtube hits signals something, but doesn’t tell give you the full story.